President Joe Biden on Friday fired Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul after he refused a request to resign, a White House official told NBC News.
Saul, who was appointed to lead the agency by President Donald Trump, was notified that his employment was terminated immediately, according to the official.
The Washington Post was first to report news of Saul’s firing.
“Since taking office, Commissioner Saul has undermined and politicized Social Security disability benefits, terminated the agency’s telework policy that was utilized by up to 25 percent of the agency’s workforce, not repaired SSA’s relationships with relevant Federal employee unions including in the context of COVID-19 workplace safety planning, reduced due process protections for benefits appeals hearings, and taken other actions that run contrary to the mission of the agency and the President’s policy agenda,” the White House official said.
Biden also asked for the resignation of David Black, the agency’s deputy commissioner, who did resign, the official said. Biden has appointed Kilolo Kijakazi, the agency’s deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy, as acting commissioner.
A search for both commissioner and deputy commissioner will now be conducted, White House official said.
Saul, however, told The Post in an interview on Friday that he questions the legality of the White House decision to fire him. His term was supposed to last until January 2025. The White House told the paper that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision conferred the power to replace him.
“I consider myself the term-protected Commissioner of Social Security,” Saul, 74, told The Post, describing the firing as a “Friday Night Massacre” — a reference to President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” which included a string of firings by the president during the Watergate scandal.
He told the paper he plans to return to work on Monday.
Saul was the first confirmed commissioner to head the agency since 2013. The commissioners in the post since then had “acting” in front of their title. Prior to his confirmation, Saul served as an executive for a woman’s apparel company and is well-known a Republican donor.
He also was a trustee at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank that has called for cuts to Social Security benefits to streamline the agency, which pays out more than $1 trillion a year to about 64 million Americans.
Republican lawmakers were swift to criticize Biden for the move, claiming the administration is injecting politics into a typically apolitical agency. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called the move “outrageous” in a tweet on Friday, noting that the commissioner is appointed to a six-year term and was confirmed with a bipartisan vote in 2019.
Social Security Commissioner Saul has bipartisan backing / I’m hrg Pres Biden may oust him which wld b outrageous Saul was confirmed by Senate in 2019 w a vote of 77 to 16 to 6yr term that doesn’t expire til January 19, 2025/ DONT POLITICIZE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) July 9, 2021
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also laced into the administration for the move in a Friday tweet.
— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) July 9, 2021
“This removal would be an unprecedented and dangerous politicization of the Social Security Administration,” McConnell said.
Democrats, however, have consistently opposed Saul during his tenure in which they said he proposed changes that made it harder for seniors and disabled workers to access benefits and blocked access to disability assistance to non-English speakers.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., who chairs the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, praised the decision by Biden in a statement on Friday. Pascrell was the first House member to call for ousting both Saul and his deputy to protect Social Security.
“The leadership of the Social Security Administration under these men has been marked by a stunning streak of disregard, callousness, and destruction of the agency,” said Pascrell. “Saul and Black acted as foxes in the henhouse. Their agenda was not to protect Social Security but to impose cruelty on America’s seniors and disabled. Their removal is overdue and welcome.”